Obama admission of mistake rare for presidents

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Presidents do not like to admit mistakes. They see it as a sign of weakness. That is why it was noteworthy that Barack Obama publicly admitted making a mistake only two weeks after taking power.

Obama's slang admission that "I screwed up" in pushing ahead with Tom Daschle as U.S. health care chief despite a controversy over unpaid taxes was a sign of the new style he brings to the White House.

The last president, George W. Bush, struggled to identify a mistake when given an opportunity to list some at a 2004 news conference. It was only when he was exiting the White House after eight years that he was comfortable naming several.

Presidents rarely admit errors "because they think they're right. It's pretty simple," said Shirley Anne Warshaw, a presidential scholar at Gettysburg College.

Sometimes an admission of a mistake can help a president clear the air after making a bad stumble.

John Kennedy's 1961 acceptance of responsibility over the bungled Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba was welcomed by Americans, as was Ronald Reagan's 1987 acknowledgment that "serious mistakes were made" in the Iran-contra affair.

But Richard Nixon's baritone insistence that "I am not a crook" over the Watergate scandal did not stop his political slide and Bill Clinton's finger-waving claim that "I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky," became a public laughingstock.

"It's more important to admit mistakes than to make them," said presidential scholar Stephen Hess, a professor at George Washington University. "That's what people are looking for, and how you do it, and if you do it fast and honorably."

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Randll Reese Besch - 2/6/2009

Showing humility can go a long way to beginning to dispel that aura of Super Human Infalability that has been growing over the decades. Bush being the most egregious example of a God-king with his claim of God speaking to him to act as some reagent and vessel for the Lord for actions on earth. It keeps the leader from believing themselve's superior to everyone else. Humility tempers that.